Do you needa dig­i­tal detox?

We now spend more time on our de­vices than we do asleep — are we all ad­dicts? Lucy Holden tries a dig­i­tal detox

Friday - - Front Page -

In a re­mote hut in the Bre­con Bea­cons, UK, a group of strangers is sit­ting in a cir­cle and drop­ping iPhones, one by one, into a black trunk. It looks like the start of a crazy theme party. It’s ac­tu­ally re­hab – for phone ad­dicts. Young pro­fes­sion­als who spend all their time on smart­phones, tablets and lap­tops have started pay­ing peo­ple to take their de­vices away from them. They are con­sciously un­cou­pling from Face­book, turn­ing off Twit­ter and go­ing cold turkey on Google+.

Dig­i­tal detox­ing was the ‘It’ thing to do in Amer­ica last year and now it’s moved to the UK, sold as a cure for a gen­er­a­tion ob­sessed with be­ing on­line. Re­cently, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions watch­dog Of­com re­vealed that Bri­tons spend nearly nine hours a day en­gaged in var­i­ous forms of me­dia con­sump­tion, an in­crease of two hours since 2010. By us­ing two types of me­dia at once – such as tweet­ing while watch­ing TV – we can cram 11 hours of it into our day.

Mo­bile phones are no longer a lux­ury, they’re a ne­ces­sity. We look at our phones roughly ev­ery six min­utes, which means we are check­ing texts, emails, so­cial me­dia and, of­ten, noth­ing, 150 times a day. One in five young adults ad­mits that they have checked their phone dur­ing very in­ti­mate mo­ments. Half of us say we feel anx­ious if we are sep­a­rated from our phones. We’re the gen­er­a­tion jaded by FOMO – fear of miss­ing out.

Are we in need of a dig­i­tal detox? All I know is that my iPhone never leaves my side. I check my emails be­fore I get out of bed in the morn­ing and when I get back into bed at night. I hear ring­tones in my dreams.

UK-based Un­plugged Week­end is the new­est company to cash in on the detox trend. It runs med­i­ta­tive week­ends where it en­cour­ages a gen­er­a­tion of phone ad­dicts to think about their us­age. A ticket costs £200 (about Dh1,200) and in­cludes all food,

ac­tiv­i­ties and ac­com­mo­da­tion in a rugged scout hut in the hills.

Most of the scores of peo­ple gath­ered in the Bre­con Bea­cons are me­dia types, but there’s also a stu­dent, an or­tho­don­tist, a trainee bar­ris­ter, a div­ing in­struc­tor and sev­eral teach­ers. There’s also a man in his for­ties called An­gus, de­scribed as a “pro­fes­sional fes­ti­val-at­ten­der” by his friend Jodie, who told him the week­end had “hippy vibes” be­cause she wanted a lift toWales.

On the first night, as it is an­nounced that the dig­i­tal detox is to com­mence, he puts his hand in the air to ask: “Sorry, what are we sup­posed to be detox­ing from?” When he’s told, he says that’s fine be­cause he doesn’t even own a mo­bile phone.

The week­end sched­ule is heav­ily geared to­wards ‘mind­ful­ness’. We are wo­ken at 7am for yoga and med­i­ta­tion, sit­ting first on sticky mats for down­ward dog poses, then mov­ing to a cosy room decked with In­dian rugs and lit with can­dles that smell of pot­pourri. Cross-legged on the floor, we are told to imag­ine that we are a branch float­ing down a river. The ses­sion ends with a se­ries of Oms.

When we ‘share our ex­pe­ri­ence’, it be­comes ob­vi­ous that we re­ally do have a prob­lem switch­ing off. We’ve got low at­ten­tion spans and many find it dif­fi­cult to clear their heads. “I find it wor­ry­ing not hav­ing some­thing to worry about,” Tracey says. “Pesky so­cial con­di­tion­ing.”

Ex­pec­ta­tions of bosses and clients are what peo­ple are most anx­ious about – we feel as though we need to be con­tactable 24/7. Tracey, who used to work for a top mu­sic mag­a­zine, says she was once nearly fired be­cause she’d gone out in the evening and missed a call telling her Amy Wine­house had died.

Be­cause we aren’t used to be­ing with­out our phones we panic like par­ents who think they’ve lost their child at the su­per­mar­ket. But we miss them for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Ammy, who writes po­etry straight on to her iPhone, misses Siri, the de­vice’s in­tel­li­gent per­sonal as­sis­tant, which acts as a scribe, typ­ing Ammy’s words as she speaks into the hand­set. Tilly, ex­cited about the af­ter­noon’s ‘laugh­ter yoga’ ses­sion, shouts “Self­ies!” be­fore re­al­is­ing that tak­ing them is no longer pos­si­ble. Jodie missed her phone’s abil­ity to func­tion as a torch on the way back to the van the night be­fore. “You re­alise that your phone is, like, a 21stcen­tury penknife, man,” she says.

Lucy Pear­son, 26, and Vikki Bates, 28, set up Un­plugged­Week­end after meet­ing on a re­treat in the Sa­hara desert ear­lier this year. While be­ing forced to go phone­less be­cause there was no sig­nal, they re­alised it was

lib­er­at­ing. They came home, quit their jobs in ad­ver­tis­ing and within a week were hav­ing their first business meet­ing over bean­burg­ers at Nando’s.

“We wanted to do a ver­sion of what we did in the Sa­hara,” says Pear­son.

“We re­alised that the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing thing about our ex­pe­ri­ence was that we didn’t have our phones and no­body was chas­ing us for any­thing,” says Bates. “You’re so caught up in the stress of life and you’re think­ing all the time but not about the im­por­tant stuff— like whether you’re happy.” a so­cial sit­u­a­tion I get my phone out and pre­tend to play a game or re­ply to all th­ese text mes­sages I’m sup­posed to have got, but be­cause you can’t do that here you ac­tu­ally talk to peo­ple.”

Tracey says she feels like she has a lot more time. “The first thing I do in the morn­ing is check Face­book in bed, then I get dis­tracted and I can be on it for hours with­out even re­al­is­ing,” she says. Some­one else ad­mits to hat­ing go­ing on Face­book. “I try not to be­cause it makes me de­pressed but I do and then I hate my­self for do­ing it— it’s like self-harm.”

Monika Pawlowska is run­ning the mind­ful­ness work­shop. We stand in a silent cir­cle for what feels like a month as she walks around the group, invit­ing us to look into each other’s eyes, love one another and “let this per­son en­ter inside of you”. Pawlowska, who once spent 10 min­utes eat­ing a raisin to prac­tise mind­ful­ness, tells us how we hide be­hind our dig­i­tal screens. “We put smi­ley faces in texts or write LOL,” she says, “but it doesn’t mean we’re happy. Who is re­ally laugh­ing out loud on the bus? Not so many peo­ple.”

By the end of the week­end some peo­ple aren’t sure they want their

‘Any time I’m anx­ious in a so­cial sit­u­a­tion I get my phone out, but here you ac­tu­ally talk to peo­ple.’

“I used to think in Face­book sta­tuses,” adds Pear­son.

Dur­ing the week­end we re­alise how re­fresh­ing all this is. We sit out­side and talk about ev­ery­thing from di­vorce to dat­ing, Biffy Clyro to Blondie, with­out one per­son be­ing dis­tracted by the buzz of their phone. “You re­alise how much of a so­cial bar­rier hav­ing a phone is,” says Tilly, who has just fin­ished her first year at Cam­bridge. “Any time I’m anx­ious in phones back. The only real emer­gency was when the model was late for our life-draw­ing class and we couldn’t call her to ask whether one of us was go­ing to have to strip off in­stead.

Katie, who works in tele­vi­sion, says she feels “re­ally anx­ious” about get­ting her phone back. “I don’t want it,” she says as we sit ner­vously around the black box for the ‘giv­ing-back cer­e­mony’. “I’ve got a sink­ing feel­ing, like there’s go­ing to be some re­ally bad news when I turn it on.”

I’ve got the feel­ing that a tsunami of com­mu­ni­ca­tion will drown me in a sea of emails, texts and missed calls and I will have to spend the next two days try­ing to catch up. It’s only after I’ve left that I re­alise that not hav­ing our phones has meant we haven’t swapped num­bers or even sur­names. We might never con­tact each other again.

Back at home, I find my­self be­ing ap­palled by how many screens I’m sur­rounded by on the Tube and sit smugly star­ing into space. I be­come one of those peo­ple who tells oth­ers off for be­ing on Face­book all the time. “You re­ally should go on a dig­i­tal detox,” I tell my boyfriend. “Did you know we look at our phones 150 times a day?”

“You told me be­fore you went,” he says. “Do you want to or­der the Chi­nese or shall I?”

I tell him I’ll use the app. It’s quicker.

Ac­tiv­i­ties such as laugh­ter yoga are a part of the detox week­end

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